A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 247
people, explained to the clerk at great length how to
number files, and then went out and did not return for a
long time. By this time Alexei thoroughly hated his long
face, long nose, clean-shaven cheeks, 'bright lips and
sloping forehead, which imperceptibly merged with a
glistening bald head. At last the major came back, sat
down, turned over the leaf of his calendar, and only then
did he pay attention to Alexei.
"Do you wanfc to see me, Comrade Senior Lieutenant?"
he inquired in a pompous, self-confident bass.
Meresyev told him his business. The major requested
the clerk to bring Alexei's papers, and while waiting for
them sat with his legs outstretched and with concentrated
attention picked his teeth with a toothpick, which out of
politeness he covered with the palm of his hand. When
the papers were brought to him he began to peruse Me-
resyev's file. Suddenly he waved his hand and pointed to
a chair, inviting Alexei to sit down; evidently he had
reached the part about the amputated feet. He continued
reading, and on finishing the last page looked up and in-
"Well, what do you want me to do for you?"
"I want an appointment to a wing in Fighter Command."
The major leaned back heavily in his chair, looked
with astonishment at the airman who was still standing in
front of him, and with his own hand drew a chair up
for him. His bushy eyebrows slipped higher up his smooth
and shining forehead as he said:
"But you can't handle a plane!"
"I can and I will! Send me to a training school for a
trial," said Meresyev almost shouting, and such indomit-
able determination was expressed in the tone in which
he said it that the officers at the other desks in the room
looked up inquiringly, wondering what the dark, hand-
some lieutenant was asking for so insistently.
The major was convinced that the man in front of him
was a fanatic or a lunatic. Casting a sidelong glance ^at
Alexei's angry face and "wild", flashing eyes, he said,
trying to speak in the mildest tone he could:
"But look here! How is it possible to pilot a plane
without feet? And who do you think will let you do it?
It's ridiculous! It has never been done before!"